In Grade 10 Social Studies we spend the semester studying globalization. We are at the part of our course where we really focus on learning about human rights. On Thursday, we were looking that the kind of pictures that make students glad they live in Canada: children fishing in the garbage laden Yangtze River in China, orphanage beds where kids sleep 3 or 4 to a single bunk, sweat shop workers seated in neat rows on the floor, child weavers squatted in front of a carpet loom in Bangladesh, injured children after the Haiti earthquake…
Of all the pictures we looked at, the one that caused the most spirited conversation was of a homeless couple and their dog, early twenties, on the streets of San Fransisco. “If they’re homeless it’s because they deserve to be”, quoted one young gal. “Yeah,” chimed in another, “there probably there because they did too many drugs.” After a few similar comments, one brave young gent broke in: “Well, just a minute. I know of a man in town who…..” Slowly, a few other students challenged their classmates assumptions that homelessness is a deserved condition.
As any good Social Studies teacher, I feel that I need to sometimes stir the pot to challenge perspectives. One of the early opinionated commenters was a young gal who has had some serious but mysterious medical ailments recently and has undergone a barrage of tests and hospital visits. I casually asked her how her medical situation would be if she lived in the United States. Her answer went something like this: “We would be bankrupt! Do you know how many tests I’ve had lately. All of my hospital visits would cost a fortune in the States. We would just have to give up…..Oh my God! Maybe they’re homeless because they couldn’t pay their medical bills. That would be me. My family.” Short pause. “This course just keeps messing me up.”
Ahhh!!! The power of a teachable moment. This conversation was occurring right about the time that Nelson Mandela’s death was announced. Tomorrow…Nelson Mandela and human rights.